LCP – a slice of Paris in East Belfast

LCP – a slice of Paris in East Belfast
Bringing his authentic pastry skills from Paris to Belfast has been a labour of love for Daniel C Duckett, owner of Lazy Claire Patisserie on the Castlereagh Road. With the recent development of a production kitchen for the business, Daniel tells NR it has taken a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.

With its unique name, Lazy Claire Patisserie has been a talking point from the off, a play on words that continues to be a conversation-starter almost six years after opening. Specialising in authentic French pastries, Daniel knew he wanted to stand out.

“I had originally thought of another French sounding name but wasn’t sold on it. I wanted something fun and I knew we would be making eclairs as part of our main offering,” said Daniel.

“So, one night at dinner my partner and I were talking about a name and I can’t remember who mentioned “les eclairs” but when you say it out loud, the French pronunciation is nearly the same as ‘Lazy Claire’. That’s when the name was born and I knew we were onto something that would serve us well.”

Daniel began his pastry career at the former restaurant, No.27 Talbot Street. After it closed, he moved to Paris in September 2012, where he worked at the world-renowned tearoom and patisserie, Angelina. Having battled to get his visa to work, he worked at Angelina until September 2013, when he returned to Belfast and began planning on opening the most authentic patisserie in Northern Ireland.

Daniel C Duckett, owner of Lazy Claire Patisserie

“My experience in Paris was absolutely essential for our business model. Angelina at the time had at least six locations in and around Paris, so they sent items out to each shop in the morning.

“We were working on a very large scale and that was easy to scale down. But now that we are in our production kitchen, I have been able to expand back up with many of the same methods we used there.

“The production kitchen was always in my business plan from the very start. As I mentioned, Angelina had a massive production kitchen in the outskirts of Paris and I wanted something similar, although smaller! We were very limited in the quantities we could produce in our Castlereagh location and the timing finally worked in our favour to secure the location on the Beersbridge Road.

“Partnering with HSBC for a significant business loan, I fitted out the former butchers’ unit with all the equipment that we would need to increase both our current offering but also introducing some new items. This space allows for all the chefs to work at the same time without being on top of each other.”

Describing the early days after opening as exciting, Daniel added it was also tricky to determine how many pastries to make due to high demand.

“As with any new business we had to adapt constantly and figure out what worked well and what we needed to do better. Knowing that we were bringing authentic pastries to Belfast had been a goal of mine for a long time and the public responded overwhelmingly to what we were doing.

“Our business has expanded steadily over the past six years. Initially it was tricky getting in front of the public, mainly due to our location. But word of mouth spread and we gained a very loyal following and once the pandemic began, we had enough loyalty to keep us going.

“We pivoted from being a sit-in café to offering only takeaways, which helped with recognition since there was a queue out the door! After things settled down again, we continued to increase the quantities we were producing to keep up with demand. It was on the back of this demand that I determined that it was the right time to expand into our production kitchen.”

While corporate orders and catering are available, Daniel said they have no plans to add a wholesale arm to the business.

“We have been asked to supply wholesale from the very start, but I have always wanted to keep our offering in-house,” he explained. “This exclusivity allows us to deliver a very high-quality product since the pastries are made fresh on the day.

“Quality has always been at the forefront of our craft and that’s very hard to control once you pass that on to someone else. Will they store it correctly? Will they attempt to sell day-old pastries? The quality and freshness that we bring would be difficult to ensure when someone else stocks your product.”

With so much demand for the sweet baked goods, innovation is key to help keep people coming back for more.

“The most popular products in the bakery can change from week to week. Our customers are not afraid of trying something new and it can be really hard to pin down what our bestsellers are, especially when we nearly sell out every day!

“My personal favourite is either the Paris Brest, made with our homemade praline paste, or our newest Opéra cake with chocolate and coffee flavours.

“Coming up with new products or ideas can be tricky if I am pretty busy with the day-to-day production. However, I have found it much easier now that I have the space to work on my own in the new kitchen. But that challenge also comes with providing something innovative and that we haven’t done before.

“I try my best not to bring back past pastries, but if I can reinvent a favourite in a different way, this gives customers the flavours that they love. With so many holidays throughout the year, we always have to be on our toes coming up with something new, so I look at pastry magazines as well as Instagram for inspiration.”

With a team of four chefs including Daniel, there are also five front of house staff, all ensuring the smooth running of Lazy Claire Patisserie, with training offered at the start for their baristas to ensure they are all up to speed on customer service and coffee skills.

Their coffee supplier, Bailies also offers a training programme for baristas and that helps ensure that each one is performing to a great standard, Daniel added.

“For our chefs, training is pretty much on a daily basis. There is so much to teach and instruct on, so it’s very rare that they aren’t learning a new skill at least once a week.”

Indeed, with the opening of the production kitchen, Daniel has plans for another exciting development, offering customers the opportunity to expand their own skills by completing a pastry course.

“Our customers have been demanding pastry courses for as long as we’ve been open and I am very keen to offer this to the public. With TV shows like GBBO and Bake Off – The Professionals, the public are intrigued by and keen to know how pastry and baking works.

“I have also had some interest from fellow chefs who would like to learn more advanced techniques, so I would like to explore offering masterclasses as well.”

Inevitably, rising business and energy costs have had their impact, with Daniel saying that inflation and rising utility costs have definitely impacted them, and as their staff are also facing those costs, wages have had to be increased too.

“All of those costs have to be covered and we have to pass those along to the customer, unfortunately. But I have tried to keep those increases to a minimum so that we can still offer excellent pastries at value for money.

“It’s a fine balancing act of finding the same product that could be cheaper with a different supplier. While I absolutely would never use inferior products, I did find that one supplier offered a high-quality, own-brand chocolate at a good reduction in price.

“I am constantly looking at raw material costs and try to avoid expensive items if possible. And if we can make something cheaper than buying it in, then we absolutely will. For instance, we make our own marshmallows, hot chocolate and chai and this can help offset the higher costs of other items like vanilla and butter.”

Daniel added that for him, the biggest challenge is ensuring continued growth and maintaining their commitment to excellence throughout that.

“Many businesses can expand and scale up, but frequently it comes at an expense to quality and corners begin to get cut. Our dedication to high-quality pastries has never changed, but figuring out how to make more in the same space of time and with the same team can be very tricky to manage.

“Technology can assist in only so many ways before you lose the craft that a trained pastry chef will bring. We don’t rely too much on technology and still craft our pastries by hand.

“We do have updated machines to help with increasing quantities, but there is still an element of knowledge and expertise that needs to go into every step. Technology can help eliminate some steps, but it would take a massive production line to come close to the steps needed with most of our pastries.”

And it is these finely-honed skills that has led to some significant award nominations for Daniel, including Top 10 Pastry Chef and Best Chef nominations.

“I have been very honoured to have been nominated for a number of awards. Having my hard work and dedication to the craft acknowledged by respected partners is very rewarding.

“Although I have yet to actually win one of the categories, the growth our business has enjoyed has proven to me that it has been successful and that is the recognition that matters most.”